Archive for March, 2011

Theological Education in The Episcopal Church

March 30, 2011

Our fnal day was highlighted with a first-ever meeting of the House of Bishops with all the seminary deans of The Episcopal Church (except one absent from illness). There is a House of Bishops Committee on Theological Education which serves as a kind of liaison with the seminaries, but this is the first time we have all met together.

Seminaries are, of course, struggling financially in our day. Seminarian debt is a huge issue because of the expense of a three year seminary experience. Many of us wonder if seminaries are not actually training people to serve in a church which no longer exists. And there is the long-standing “competition” and suspicion on the part of seminaries about diocesan training programs which have developed to train lay persons, deacons, and priests as alternatives to the seminary experience.

We heard a brief address from the President of the Seminary Deans and then brief vignettes of “good news” from each of the other 9 deans present about new initiatives in their schools. These ranged from distance learning to mergers to ecumenical cooperation to emphases on Latino ministries, to a desire for each of the seminaries to create their own “niche” or specialty so that they do not try to be all things for all people.

I do think the deans are aware of the problems and are trying, but in my opinion a number of key issues remain:

1. We have too many seminaries (11) for the size of our church (about 2 million members).

2. They have a tendency to think that the only way theological education can take place in community is in a residential seminary.

3. Issues of tenure may keep on older faculty members to the exclusion of raising up new and younger scholars to education a new generation.

4. Seminaries do not seem to teach”pedagogy” – they do not teach seminarians to teach.

I’m glad we began the conversation and hope it will continue because we have a long way to go before we reach at least my vision for theological education — which is that every Christian has the right to a full and equal theological education. Then, gifts and talents will deermine who gets ordained or serves in some specialized ministry – not the level of one’s training.

Anglican Covenant – Anglican Ecclesiology

March 29, 2011

This morning The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops had another session discussing the proposed Anglican Covenant. Neil Alexander, Bishop of Atlanta and former seminary professor, delivered a brilliant paper on Anglican/Episcopal ecclesiology and raised the question about whether this proposed Covenant would substantially alter Anglican ecclesiology, specifically by inaugurating – for the first time – a more centralized authority than we have ever had before.

We were joined by three Primates – Archbishop Henri Isingoma of the Congo, Archbishop Paul Kim of Korea, and Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada. All three delivered responses to Neil’s paper and I was surprised to note that all three have serious reservations about the Covenant and whether it will indeed be of any use at all in resolving some of the conflict in the Anglican Communion.

There seems to be general agreement that Parts 1,2 and 3 of the Covenant are an acceptable description of Anglican history and ecclesiology but that Part 4 really does not accomplish its goal of providing a way constructively to manage or respond to disagreements across the Communion and may even perpetuate them. The Primate of Korea expressed his House of Bishops concern about the vestiges of “colonialism” in this section of the Covenant, with decisions being made about a local church (Province) outside that local church about its internal decisions.

Everyone present seems prepared to continue to discuss and work with the proposed Covenant but a number of bishops sugggested finding a  “third way” forward since many of us in the West, in Latin Amerca, and Asia are having trouble voting for it and since we have heard that the GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) bishops in Africa have signaled that they will probably not sign on to it because it does not go far enough in “disciplining” churches such as ours and the Anglican Church in Canada with whom they do not agree.

All in all, it was a respectful and thoughtful conversation which should provide much grist for the mill as we move forward.

Stay tuned!

Who is my Neighbor? Islam and Christianity

March 28, 2011

Today our theme was “Who is my neighbor: Islam and Christianity.” Presenters included a Muslim scholar and former ambassador from Pakistan, Dr. Akbar Ahmed; Dr. William Sachs, an Episcopal priest now running an interfaith think-tank; and Ms. Eliza Grizwold, poet and journalist who has published an account of her seven years of reporting on the intersection of Christianity and Islam along “The Tenth Parallel” (the book’s title).

The morning was spent in presentations on the complexities and yet necessity of Christian-Muslim dialogue since over 60% of the world’s population are adherents of these two religions. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding of Muslims seems only increasing in the United States and all speakers emphasized the need for us to counter this reality.

So often we hear “where are the moderate Muslim voices” to counter Al Quaida, the Taliban, etc. Today we were asked “Where are the moderate Christian voices to counter Glenn Beck, Franklin Graham and the other fear mongers who regularly demonize all Muslims for the sins of the extemists. Good question…

In the afternoon two models for our response were presented: Bishop Joe Burnett formerly of Nebraska spoke of the “Tri Faith Initiative’ in Omaha — where property has been purchased on which to construct a Jewish temple, an Episcopal Church, and a Muslim mosque sharing a common campus and built around what they call “the fourth building” which will be an interfaith center for dialogue, study, and social action together.

And Bishop Tom Shaw of Massachusetts told the story of how a community of 350 Muslims began praying in the crypt of the Cathedral in Boston – initially simply providing a safe space for them to pray, now developed into cooperative efforts for reconciliation and understanding in the wider community.

Dr.Ahmed encouraged us to pray for and support the exciting, but extemely fragile, uprisings across the Arab world and their search for democracy and human rights. No one knows how these ‘grass roots’ movements will turn our, since they are largely leaderless and somewhat unfocused. However, he believes they are a genuine human cry after so many years of oppression and domination by cruel tyrants.

Even if some fail, he believes these movements to be extremely significant not only for Islam, but for peace and justice in the world.

During the day he shared an amazing quote from the Prophet Mohammed who once said, “The ink of scholars is worth more than the blood of martyrs.” Why do we never hear this cited?

A “Sabbath Day” With the Moravians

March 28, 2011

Nice “sabbath” day on Sunday. We had Morning Prayer at 9, a brunch at 11:30, and a free afternoon. I continued my Lenten reading in N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg, and Jon Dominic Crossan New Testament Studies. And…took a nap.

This evening we had a “Fireside Chat” with the Presiding Bishop which is one of the private conversations on which we are not to “report” since they are of a confidential nature. But…there were no “blockbusters” and the tone was basically upbeat and positive.

We concluded the evening with a Moravian service of worship, presided over by five Moravain bishops of the Southern Province. As is typical, it was deeply prayerful with lots of singing, a humble and prayerful spirit, and with a focus on the unity of the Church for which Christ prayed.

The five bishops were robed in beautiful and generous surplices, the Eucharistic prayer complete with a rehearsal of salvation history, epiclesis, and words of institution. Communion was adminstered to us in the pews and we all retained the elements until everyone was served and then we all received together.

I heard no complaints about the blood of Christ being received as grape juice in tiny cups (although I’m sure there were some). However, the palpable devotion and orthodox prayers probably led most to believe that this was indeed “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven” and “the Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.”

We need to learn from each other’s traditions, be open to grow and change, and realize that — as the Moravians often say — we need “unity in essentials, tolerance in non-essentials, and love in everything.”

The House of Bishops experienced that tonght…

The Episcopal Church and Young Adults

March 26, 2011

Very good day discussing ministry to and with young adults at the House of Bishops today. We were led by Lisa Kimball from the Virginia Theological Seminary, a young priest named Arrington Chambliss from the Diocese of Massachusetts, and a young lay person named Jason Long also from that Diocese.

Care was taken not to treat young adults as “a demographic” and to start with the fact that they are children of God and that we have an awful lot more in common than we have differences, even though they do inhabit a radically different environment than most of the bishops in this House grew up in.

We did start with one of Beloit College’s Mindset Lists which helps sketch out some of those differences for “the Class of 2014.”  We shared the results of conversations many of us were asked to have with some young adults in our dioceses. Interest in spiritual practices, a passion for social justice and inclusion, and a disgust for hypocrisy and judgmentalism were common responses many of us received.

In the afternoon we heard presentations on the Episcopal Service Corps program present in sixteen or seventeen of our dioceses. These are young adults committed to work for social justice, deep their spiritual awareness and discern vocation, develop leadership skills, and live a simple, sustainable lifestyle — all done often in intentional communities. We also heard examples of “fresh expressions” of the faith and the emergent conversation which continues both here and abroad.

We concluded in a guided meditation called “The Walk into the Future” where we were asked to envision what the future of ministry to and with young adults might look like in 2 or 3 years if we really got started and what first steps we might take to get there. We then shared those in small groups and, by post-it notes around the room, with everyone. 

In short, many of us believe that The Episcopal Church is positioned to enrich, and be enriched by, the lives of many of the these young people — but it will take commitment, flexibility, risk-taking, and the willingness to fail — as well as to succeed — to make it happen.

All in all…a good day.

To Blog or Not to Blog – from the House of Bishops

March 26, 2011

Great to be back at the House of Bishops! Can’t remember starting off quite so quickly or intensely!  “Back in the day,” we used to sort of “ease” into the heavy stuff.

After a challenging address by the PB to “show up” in the various challenging venues of today’s world, we had a report from a committee on changes in governance of The Episcopal Church, concerns about the new Title IV Canon revisions (clergy discipline), a report from the committee on same gender blessings, and from a group looking at devising a process for the “reconciliation or dissolution of a pastoral relationship between a bishop and a diocese!”

Wow! For the new bishops: welcome to your new role!

There was also a discussion about the appropriateness of “tweets” and “blogs” from this House. There is a real tension between using the technology we are all becoming used to, and the confidentiality of the House and particularly sending out electronic communication quoting specific people when, in fact, we are simply partway through a discussion and may have reached no conclusions.

It’s a real issue and I intend to be sensitive to how I “blog” here. Certainly, I do not intend to fire off half-baked ideas in the midst of ongoing discussion. But I do think it appropriate to send out this kind of summary as our days unfold.

We shall see…

Back To the House (of Bishops)

March 24, 2011

Since taking early retirement from my position as the Presiding Bishop’s Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations at the Church Center and signing on for two years as Interim Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in my former Diocese of Iowa, I have not been back to a House of Bishops’ meeting. I think retired bishops should stay retired. I certainly think retired bishops should refrain from voting which I will surely do.

However, the current Bishop of Iowa, Alan Scarfe, is on sabbatical and I have been doing some informal, “back up” episcopal ministry since the first of the year. Both Alan and I thought it was important for this diocese of have a pair of eyes and ears (two each!) at the Spring meeting of the House, so I agreed to go. It will be good to see old friends and to spend a few days at the Kanuga Conference Center, near Asheville/Hendersonville, NC. It’s always a pretty time of year up there.

I remember the first Spring meeting we had there after the melt-down General Convention in Phoenix when Ed Browning decided we needed to meet more regularly as bishops, to work on our common life, and to find venues in which to pray and talk and relate to one another, free from the highly-charged “political” atmosphere of General Convention or even the traditional Fall meetings of the House.

I think these meetings have served us well and one doesn’t here the “d” word –“dysfunctional” — thrown around quite so much any more describing the House of Bishops. These Spring meetings used to have more of a ‘retreat’ atmosphere which I always appreciated. I think some of that has gone by the wayside over the years, but the conference/retreat center setting of Kanuga still lends itself to a different feeling for the meeting.

This time we’ll talk about proclamation of the Gospel to teenagers and young adults, spend some time on interfaith matters particularly Christianity and Islam, talk about the proposed Anglican Covenant, and explore the recruitment, selection, and formation of young leaders. I hope to share anything interesting that may come out of these discussions on this blog.

Anyone still out there?





March 15, 2011

Lent 1A. Trinity Cathedral. Every year, on this First Sunday of Lent, we have the Gospel account of Jesus’ Temptations in the wilderness. It makes perfect sense because, as we prepare to enter our 40 period of prayer and fasting, we will want to remember why Christians do this every year. We fast and pray because our Lord did, and our deepest desire is to live our lives in “imitation of Christ!”

But it’s a bit of a stretch for most of us to see ourselves tempted as he was during those 40 days. Confronted directly by the Evil One and tempted to turn stones into bread, to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, to worship the devil himself in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. I don’t believe any of us are tempted like that!

Oh, we have our own temptations…often related to power or sex or money and Jesus’ responses to his tempter are still instructive for us: We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Don’t put the Lord your God to the test. Worship the Lord your God and serve only him. Those responses will stand us in good stead however we’re tested.

But I think often our temptations today are, more likely, ones of apathy. We’re often tempted just not to care very much. Not to care about spending time with our God in prayer and learning more by reading the Bible or other spiritual literature. Not to care about getting ourselves to church except maybe once a month or so because we’re so busy or so tired. Not to care much about inviting our friends or neighbors to church or to church activities.

But more important than any of these: not to care about making some kind of a difference in this world for God!  The traditional spiritual practices for Christians during Lent, our Presiding Bishop reminded us this week in her Lenten message, are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. And we have a God-given opportunity this Lent not only to learn more about prayer in our Wednesday night classes, to meditate during our Wednesday Noonday organ recitals, and to exercise our spiritual muscles by fasting, by “giving something up for Lent,” but we also have an opportunity literally to “give alms to the poor.”

The Diocese of Iowa and Trinity Cathedral, challenged by our Sunday School and Youth Group, have joined the “Rebuild Our Church in Haiti” campaign to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-au-Prince so there will always be a place people can go during times of trouble. When the January 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, people turned to our church. They knew they would find help there even though nearly all the church buildings, including Holy Trinity Cathedral were reduced to rubble. The Bishop, other clergy and Cathedral staff, offered what food and water they had. They handed out tents until all the tents were gone.

You may, or may not, know that Haiti has the numerically largest diocese of The Episcopal Church. It is home to nearly 100,000 Episcopalians with 97 parishes and 200 schools. In 2008 the Diocese celebrated over 200 baptisms and 700 confirmations. Per capita income there is about $480 a year!

Bishop Zache Duracin, whom I have known for over 20 years, along with the clergy and people of his diocese “have been rising to meet their extraordinary challenges in amazing and inspiring ways,” according to Bishop Pierre Whalon, who visited Haiti recently. “For the past year, volunteers from all over the world have streamed there to help, and money has been collected and wisely spent. Help for all Haitians to recover has come not only through the world’s governments, but more importantly through many non-governmental actors like Episcopal Relief and Development and Caritas.”

“But now the rebuilding needs to start.  The Episcopalians of Haiti are starting at their heart in Port-au-Prince, the (Holy Trinity) cathedral complex, so they can gather the strength to rebuild the remaining 80 percent of their physical assets lost in the 2010 earthquake. Rebuilding the (cathedral) complex will not only give a new spiritual center for Haiti, it will also put back the music school with its orchestra, a trade school, a K through 12 school, and an institute for handicapped children…Just this alone will give the entire capital (city) a shot in the arm.” (Whalon)

As your Announcement Bulletin indicates today, we plan to participate in this campaign starting today and running through Sunday May 29. Our Sunday School children will put coins and bills into a jar each Sunday and there will be a display table and jar in the Great Hall for each of us to give what we can in that way. There are envelopes in the pews in case you would like to make a contribution by checks made out to Trinity Cathedral and marked “for Haiti.” That way we can keep a record of your contribution.

Our Youth Group will be sponsoring a couple of special fund raising events to support this effort and we may even have a final festive meal at the end of the campaign late in May to wrap things up. Each brick to rebuild Holy Trinity Cathedral costs $10. Obviously, that means $100 would buy 10 bricks, $500 fifty bricks, and $1,000 100 bricks. The Diocese of Iowa has set a goal of $50,000 to be raised over these next 12 weeks.

It’s interesting to me that, in our recent parish survey, amidst all the concerns about the internal life of our congregation, among the top five priorities for people under 35 years old and for those over 65 years old was to “develop ministries that work toward healing those broken by life circumstances.” It is hard for me to imagine people more “broken by life circumstances” than our sister and brother Episcopalians in the Diocese of Haiti. We have, of course, been moved in recent weeks and even hours by more devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and now Japan. Relief efforts will need to be mounted there too, but at least there is an economic base in those countries, and the per capita income more than $480 a year!

And it is hard for me to imagine a simpler and more direct way for us to respond to the people of Haiti than by generously supporting this “brick by brick” campaign to “Rebuild our Church” there.” So, as you pray and fast this Lent – pray for Haiti and fast in order to give. There is no reason to give in to the temptation to apathy.

We can, dear friends, make a difference! Will you help?